Rhode Island Joins Northeast States in Pledge to Boost Heat Pump Usage


Air source heat pumps pull heat from one air mass and transfer it to another, heating by moving energy into the building and cooling by moving it out. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

It’s electric: Rhode Island is joining eight other states and pledging to increase heat pump adoption in residential buildings by the end of the decade.

Officials from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and the Office of Energy Resources (OER) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) written by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM) — a six-member coalition of New England state air agencies — that pledges electric heat pumps will make up at least 65% of all residential heating and cooling products shipped to the states by 2030, and 90% by 2040.

The nine states that have signed the MOU have also pledged to collect and share market data regarding heat pumps and develop an action plan over the next 12 months to spur residential heat pump adoption. The states have also pledged to direct 40% of new investments in electrification and energy-efficiency upgrades to residential buildings in low-income households and disadvantaged communities.

““The residential heating sector is a primary driver of climate change and remains a large source of our state’s GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions at nearly 20% according to our most recent emissions inventory,” DEM director Terry Gray said in a statement. “Accelerating the transition to zero-emission buildings is an essential step in reducing these harmful emissions that worsen climate change, will advance green energy development, and will help improve the air quality that our residents breathe every day.”

States that have signed onto the MOU include Massachusetts, Maine, California, Colorado, and Maryland.

Building emissions — the greenhouse gases produced by heating residential homes and businesses — account for just under 30% of all emissions produced in Rhode Island, according to the latest GHG inventory released by DEM last year. While emissions from the transportation and electricity sectors have earned the lion’s share of headlines since the Act on Climate law was signed, the state still lacks any real policy to ramp up emissions reductions in the buildings sector.

And it’s not just Rhode Island. According to NESCAUM, all nine states that signed the MOU emit more than 138,000 tons of nitrogen oxides from fossil fuel infrastructure such as furnaces and water heaters in buildings, and 6,000 tons of fine particulate matter each year, contributing to worsening air quality, ozone formation, and regional haze.

Rhode Island does have one key thing, however: money. In 2023, Gov. Dan McKee allocated $25 million from federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars to go toward new financial incentives for heat pump adoption. The program, now called Clean Heat RI, also provides additional incentives for low-income households to cover the majority of the cost of heat pump purchase and installation.

Since launching in September, Clean Heat RI has paid 531 rebates, spending around $1.5 million from the program funds in total. The program still remains sluggish in attracting low-income residents, paying out only four rebates, totaling around $52,000 in its low-income eligible program.

The program has $20.37 million remaining in its coffers, and it’s expected to dole out rebates through 2026.

Despite the progress made in the electric heat pump program, there’s still a long way to go before Rhode Island will start seeing dents in building emissions. OER estimates around half of homes in the state use natural gas to heat their homes during cold New England winters, with another third or so using home heating oil furnaces to get the job done. Only 8.7% rely on electricity for heat.


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  1. They tried making heat pumps mandatory in the United Kingdom and they were not very efficient at reducing heating costs.
    Has anyone offered a cost benefit ratio based on actual system installation and use.
    I’m in favor of solar power but I haven’t found a company that can show me a cost benefit ratio that would benefit me.

  2. This is an excellent program for Rhode Island!

    Learning more about why residential home owners have installed heat pumps may help to shine light on the barriers and opportunities for expansion of this program. From my personal efforts and observations of various national and international forums that discuss heat pumps, the motivation ranges from the environmental benefits, to the economic savings, to the personal health benefits, and the necessity as it relates to end-of-life of legacy systems. I suspect, very soon these conversations will shift to “cooling degree days” and as a whole, the “personal health benefits” of not over-heating will become a larger part of the conversation.

    From a limited amount of estimates from contractors, there is a general reluctancy to embrace the full conversion to sole source air source heat pump as the method for residential heating, with most contractors suggesting to leave in the legacy system, even though the Manual J calculation and the COP of the ASHP clearly show that that the system can work well into the single digits below zero.

    Heat pumps are great, but it does require a nudge to get it into your home. Fortunately my legacy system was about to quit, so it made it lazy/easy to embrace a better option, and in doing so I did it in a time appropriate response.

  3. I’m all for giving up heating oil, but my electric costs are very high, especially since we charge 2 cars and RI Energy doesn’t offer any lower off-peak rates like the rest of New England utilities. I think we’ve all seen our rates increase since they took over from National Grid (which did have off-peak pricing). I’d like to see some kind of cost comparison between the 2 systems for heating. I’m also wondering if there is any concern about the grid being able to handle all of us going electric for heating, again because our electric utilities in RI don’t offer savings as an incentive to use the grid during low use hours.

  4. I believe a reason for the slow uptake of state heat pump rebates may be that everyone knows that large federal rebates distributed by the states are in the works, but won’t be available until late 2024 or 2025 and won’t be retroactive.

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